First UK speaker forced out in 300 years

On one of the most momentous days in British parliamentary history the Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, resigned his office last Tuesday, while Prime Minister Gordon Brown desperately tried to defuse the constitutional crisis by announcing unprecedented plans to curb centuries of MPs’ self-governance.

Within hours of Martin giving up the fight to retain his post as the most senior commoner in the land, Brown outlined plans to dismantle what he described as the “gentlemen’s club” of Parliament by handing power for the oversight of every aspect of MPs’ pay, expenses and pensions to a new statutory independent regulator.

At a Downing Street press conference Brown said Westminster “can no longer operate as a 19th-century institution where the members make up the rules”.

He said he would be willing to pass legislation to end self-regulation immediately, on a cross-party basis, so that MPs were no longer “judge and jury of their own pay and rations”.

Later Martin announced an immediate interim ban on MPs claiming for furniture and the “flipping” of second homes—where they designate one home as their second home for purposes of special allowances and then flip the designation to another—two of the most incendiary practices to emerge from the expenses scandal.

Brown promised that Labour’s national executive would deselect MPs who had broken the rules of Parliament, describing the expenses claims of his communities secretary, Hazel Blears, and the Labour MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran, as “completely unacceptable”.

Promising to table specific proposals, he said this had to be “a process that involves citizens, people from all parties and none”.

At last week’s Cabinet meeting ministers discussed the possibility of a constitutional convention to try to revive the moribund constitutional reform agenda, but no decision was taken.

Martin, appointed in 2000, became the first Speaker to be forced from office in more than 300 years. He resigned after discussions with Brown, who is understood to have warned him that support was draining away after his disastrous performance in the Commons on Monday afternoon.—.

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